By Jerry Harris
Modern technology is an incredible thing, and it’s especially impressive to someone my age. When I was a child, I used to wonder at the people I knew who were around before airplanes, mass-production of cars, and the discovery of antibiotics. With technology developing at light speed, I have become one of those people today that young people look at quizzically.
I grew up when cars had painted steel dashboards, pointy control knobs, and a shelf beneath the back window for kids to sleep on during drives. The only “airbag” in our car was my mother’s arm when she reached out to hold us in our seat.
Back then, there were only three television channels and we used tinfoil to get better reception. I remember milk delivery trucks, civil defense drills, and bomb shelters in people’s backyards. I remember being kicked out of the house in the morning and told not to return home until dinner.
Things have definitely changed! Today, child car seats come with expiration dates; booster seats are used until a car’s seat belt fits a child properly, typically by age 12 or 13. Today, there are more channels, more services, and more instantly accessible entertainment than anyone could begin to consume. One can now grocery shop, pursue a college degree, bank, date, and share pictures of your dinner or your cat without leaving home. And, if you do leave home, your smartphone can serve as your camera, calendar, navigator, or just about anything else you might need.
No one would argue that technology is a double-edged sword. Devices that are convenient in one sense actually work against us in others. I was sitting in a backstage room at church and noticed that everyone was glued to their phone; no one was talking. In many ways, convenience has torn us apart. We are drowning in information, but we lack the relational wisdom to put it into use.
The same could be said for the church. Let’s be honest. There was a time when children and students were uncomfortable with traditional church and were given other spaces more suited to them where they could worship and learn. As those children grew up into leadership, those methods matriculated with them. Today, technology surrounds everything the church does. Lights are programmed, theatrical haze gives the lights body and motion, expensive sound systems bolster the environment and mood, and cameras capture the experience for an online audience. Most giving occurs online, emails and Facebook have replaced church newsletters, and sermons are archived in the cloud.
Our church doesn’t speculate much anymore about our people. Instead, we do online surveys, work with big data to understand our church’s relationship to its community, use Net Promoter Score to measure how likely people would be to invite their friends, and track frequency of attendance through children’s check-in, giving, and service. We use a database for reports, communication, giving trends, and congregational mapping. We use our website to familiarize people to our church and an app that allows cutting-edge interaction from literally anywhere.
Technology has completely changed church. We don’t literally cut-and-paste bulletins and newsletters anymore. Our church rolls aren’t kept in a ledger book and our attendance, giving, and song numbers aren’t posted on wooden signs. In churches today, there are fewer suits, ties, dresses, and high heels, and there aren’t many robed song leaders beating out 4/4 time to hymn No. 62. Most churches don’t sing the Doxology as deacons escort the morning offering to the Communion table.
The Restoration Movement’s founders intended to go back to the primitive church—a church without denominational hierarchies, creeds, and a division between clergy and laity. But a church that is primitive in its beliefs does not have to remain primitive in the tools it uses to proliferate the message of the gospel.
The Acts 2 church was new and exciting—it broke every mold of Jewish religious tradition—and so it wasn’t long before it was despised and persecuted. It was a church that baptized by immersion, devoted itself to learning and reading the Word of God, existed under local church authority, enjoyed the fellowship of “one another’s,” participated in weekly Communion, prayed corporately, utilized their gifts to edify the body, gave generously, praised God in worship, and witnessed the growth that only the Holy Spirit can provide (Acts 2:41-47).
Whatever technological tools we have at our disposal, let’s use them to glorify God and deliver the message of the gospel to a world that desperately needs him.